If Eric Taylor walked onto the courts at the Aebersold Recreation Center on a Wednesday night, students would not stop their games to stare. Some students might not even recruit Taylor to join their squad, as 95% wouldn’t know who he is.
Taylor, a junior on the Slippery Rock men’s basketball team, stands at 5’11” with a slim 175-pound build. Not exactly an imposing figure like his teammates Micah Till or Will Robinson, Jr.
But like his teammates, Taylor would dominate any of the competition on any given night.
Maybe “dominate” isn’t the most politically correct word to describe how he’d fare against students at the ARC, but he wouldn’t deny it.
“Yeah, most likely,” Taylor chuckled.
Taylor lives and breathes basketball, spending his free time outside of class and practice at the gym. He works out by himself, just him and the court. “[Basketball] means a lot to me, and I’m really committed,” Taylor said.
But when game day rolls around, Taylor doesn’t find himself in the starting lineup. In fact, he doesn’t find himself in the lineup at all on most days.
Having played in five games this season, a total of nine minutes, Taylor last found himself on the court against California (Pa.) on Feb. 1. He hit a pair of free throws, his first and second points of the season. His playing time, or lack thereof, doesn’t bother him though.
“I’m pretty happy with [my role on the team],” Taylor said.
A transfer from the Community College of Beaver County, Taylor originally plied his trade in Philadelphia at the Preparatory Charter School.
Playing in 56 games over his freshman and sophomore seasons at CCBC, Taylor averaged 3.3 points per game on 34.9% shooting from the field and 35.1% shooting from 3-point range during his sophomore season. He also averaged 2 assists and 1.4 rebounds per game.
Playing with current Rock teammate Deontae Robertson at CCBC, the Titans went 23-4 over the 2018-19 season with a trip to the NJCAA Region XX DII semifinals.
While team manager Zack Fincher said Taylor ended up at Slippery Rock because of him, Taylor pointed to a variety of things going right for him to end up at SRU.
“I won an academic scholarship to certain state schools, and this was one of the only ones to offer my major,” Taylor said. “Plus I already knew some of the people here, so it was an easy decision.
Majoring in Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering, a relatively recent addition to potential majors at Slippery Rock, Taylor said his options for pursuing his major led him to consider Slippery Rock and Shippensburg.
Aside from offering his major, Taylor pointed to a couple of familiar faces already in place at Slippery Rock.
“I already had a relationship with coach [Valeriano], plus I knew Deontae Robertson; we were at Beaver together, and I knew he was coming here,” Taylor said.
While players like Till and Robinson transferred to Slippery Rock with dreams of playing beyond the realm of collegiate basketball, having red carpets rolled out for their arrivals, Taylor took a more unheralded approach.
Despite the difference in on-court impact, Grady said Taylor and his fellow reserves have vital roles on the squad.
“I think [the reserves] do a good job of coming to the team with a positive attitude every day and working hard and encouraging the guys that are on the floor,” Grady said. “So, they help practices and games immensely.”
Taylor stressed how hard he goes, showing up and memorizing the scouting report, for every practice.
“I try to help the guys out that are playing,” Taylor said. “When they’re guarding someone, I try to scream out the tendencies of that player. Try to know the plays and tell them what’s going to happen. I just try to help in any way that I can.”
While he acts as a scout player in practice, helping his teammates in preparing for whichever team is coming up next on the schedule, he said he acts as a hype man and a motivator during games.
On game days, Taylor prepares for games with the rest of the team, warming up and shooting around at the Morrow Field House for home games and bonding on bus rides for away games.
“I wouldn’t say it’s easy because we just shoot around for about 45 minutes, we go over scouts, and, if it’s an away game, we leave about two hours earlier to get to the game and watch the girls play,” Taylor said. “Then we just go through warmups, and it’s game time.”
While Slippery Rock’s rotation runs 10 men deep usually, with Till averaging nearly 30 minutes per game, Taylor averages 1.8 minutes per game in his five games. Grady stressed that just because a player doesn’t receive huge minutes, doesn’t mean that player contributes nothing.
“We never really measure the value to the team by minutes played in a game,” Grady said. “I think everyone has their role and their place on the team and none more important than the other.”
Taylor and fellow junior Andre Seadey have played in five and six games, respectively, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming valued and respected members of the team.
“I think it’s friendly and welcoming,” Grady said. “I’ll use Eric as an example, everyone on the team gets along with him, loves him, so I think we’ve got a group of guys that get along well not just on the court but off the court.”
In just a few months spent at Slippery Rock, it’s been a whirlwind for Taylor. However, he still has a memory that he’ll take with him for a long time.
Following a couple of blowout losses in Division I exhibition games, Slippery Rock played Notre Dame College (Oh.) in the Joe Retton Classic to open the season.
A back and forth affair all night, Slippery Rock found itself trailing by a point with a few seconds left. Inbounding the ball to senior Jared Armstrong, he took the ball the full length of the court, splashing a deep 3-pointer for a walk-off win to open the season.
Erupting off the bench, Taylor remembered the euphoria.
“Our first game, we won off a buzzer-beater,” Taylor said, smiling widely, as he reminisced on the memory.